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PORT VILA, VANUATU (18 March 2024): The National Ocean Policy and Marine Spatial Plan is an important instrument in ensuring that the Ocean and its eco-system are developed and managed in a sustainable way to ensure our people can benefit from its eco-services.

These were the words of the Director General of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Secretariat while delivering his keynote address during the Vanuatu National Ocean Policy and Marine Spatial Plan Workshop at the Ramada Hotel on 11 March 2024.

He stated that together MSG countries constitute some 8.5 million square kilometers of the total EEZ in what is now fondly referred to as the Blue Pacific Continent. And, while this is a very significant swath of blue ocean real estate, consequently, ocean governance must feature prominently in the MSG echelons of our policy concerns and priorities. 

MSG Members he said, share with each other extensive coastlines and huge coastal communities that straddle our borders, communities whose food bowl is the ocean and the attendant marine ecosystems, and if managed responsibly, we will ensure their economic prosperity. 

He noted that according to an SPC report, subsistence inshore fisheries contribute between 28 - 96% to the overall value of fisheries to the GDP of Melanesian countries – Fiji 82%, Vanuatu 96%, Solomon Islands 38%, PNG 28%, and New Caledonia 70%, and that even with the high value tuna fisheries, MSG countries continue to be significant players in that fishery.

“While trends suggest that tuna is gradually moving eastward, the fishing effort in, and catch data from, the MSG countries is substantial, suggesting that our fishing grounds are still rich with fish stocks. Concomitantly, revenue from this fishery is important in the national budgets of MSG countries,” he added.

DG Louma re-emphasised the importance of the ocean and the coastal fisheries to our people with the provision of food security, employment, recreational value and a lot of our culture is closely linked to activities pertaining to the marine life. 

“The political boundaries, drawn at the convenience of our colonial masters at that time, and accepted by our countries at independence, divided tribal and customary communities, cut through swaths of seagrasses and seaweeds, ran through contiguous coral reefs, divided fishing grounds that once could be accessed equally by the coastal communities and created an unnecessary inconvenience to our people that live in the surrounding border areas. 

“And while it is necessary to conclude delimitation of our maritime boundaries, I am hoping that efforts towards this and developing ocean management in our part of the world do take into account these intricately woven shared features,” he said.

DG Louma said, “we owe it to our people living along the maritime borders, to devise a corridor for them to engage in cross border commercial activities”. 

Traditional communities divided by colonial drawn borders he said, must be allowed to visit their relatives easily and while we are already doing that in the MSG, more can be done by developing mechanisms to assist traditional coastal communities along the border to jointly manage their shared traditional fishing grounds, whether it be in relation to sedentary marine resources or pelagic fishery. 

DG Louma said he is confident that the MSG can lead the way in this regard. 

“We, at the Secretariat, are gradually unpacking the MSG Roadmap for Inshore Fisheries Management and Sustainable Development 2015- 2024 with shared responsibilities of our ocean and marine resources very much in our minds. 

“One of the guiding principles of the MSG Inshore Fisheries Roadmap is – “A Melanesian partnership approach, which builds on and shares the diversity of experiences, while recognising the differences between the MSG members socio-cultural setting, etc”. 

He also informed participants that the MSG Fisheries Technical Advisory Committee (FTAC) is scheduled to meet 14-15 August this year and the MSG Fisheries Working Group will be meeting soon after to consider the recommendations of the MSG FTAC.

Caption: DG Louma delivering the keynote address at the Vanuatu National Ocean Policy and Marine Spatial Plan Workshop at the Ramada Hotel.

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